Friday, January 04, 2008

Should We Talk About The Weather?: Steve's Analysis On Song Writing

A line from some REM... that is where I got part of that title from. I think it was Pop Song or something like that... Anyhow... I think it is a good line that you remember from a song mostly...

Or is it?

See... that is an issue I am debating lately as I listen to my iPod on 10 browsing different things on the net that have no apparent correlation to each other.

The first song I think I played on this latest random shuffle was "Think It Over" by Buddy Holly.

Okay, Buddy I have thought it over and you were like the greatest song writer in pop music history. Why you were so good? Well... You did something exciting that countless people knowingly (The Beatles) or unknowingly (Green Day) copied millions of times over intriguing our psyche over and over. Simple songs... simple progressions... music know how... Hook, line... and sinker (the crazy glasses)

But really is that all a good song needs? A simple 3 chord pattern? Tonic, Sub Dominant and Dominant Harmony played over and over...

Well... then my iPod rolls into the Beatles' "And I Love Here" And yeah... you have the simple altered version of that progression... with a bridge of minor chords separating choruses from verses. Minor chords brought color and emphasis to the standard blues patterned chords from early Buddy Holly or even go back, Hank Williams and Chuck Berry songs... It's the color that hangs us on the more modern songs. The sad emotion of a minor chord in an other wise happy tune influences what we remember. If it wasn't for this then bands like U2 or Coldplay would have nothing to exploit to make their songs sound so big, even if over simple progression with some minor chords because it's those minor chords and melodies that draw us into that anthemic rock.

But then there is the riff. Anyone of us can hum the main riff to "Satisfaction" Riffs make all that I discuss even bigger. As "Today" pops up from the Smashing Pumpkins on my iPod, I can think of thing through the whole song: That riff off of the 11th fret. The one riff that sounds like, unconsciously, like another big riff: Slash's from Sweet Child of Mine. Riffs draw us into a song with familiarity. As a pause and listen again to U2's With or Without You... it's the bass riff you carry away from the song after the melody. Think about all the songs you like? Is it a riff that moves you or the melody?

So you have your major progression, splashed with a minor chord progression bridge and embellishment of a catchy riff.

So what's next?

Well... prog rock screwed all that up because we yearn for themes in our music. Pink Floyd, Led Zepellin and The Who screwed all that up first. They made all that stuff I mentioned above bigger... but really to disguise what they were doing with extra sounds and themes. They still did all the above, but they hid it with different instruments, multiple guitar and piano tracks and finally splash in a little drugs. With all that... you don't get influence for better music... you get the cock rock of the 80's with the big hair, loud guitars and everyone thinking they were the next big thing, manufactured by producers who probably lugged Jimmy Page's guitar cases around the studio.

The rebellion of all this sappy crap brought us the Ramones who had the sense to go back to the beginning with Buddy Holly and start over. Bringing us the punk rock style we all know and love. Catchy melodies and riffs, played faster and faster with some lyrics now resembling some broken home political scam. Three chords, one speed... 2 minutes or less. With out punk... rock and roll would have died. We needed it. Punk brought honesty back from the fakers trying to be Zeppelin. It was new... It was neat. We gotta thank Buddy Holly for it too.

After all that... Add some Elvis Costello and his changes to that punk rock and prog rock and you get alternative rock. A true genuine musician... Elvis took valid Buddy Holly style and punk angst, mixed in his own musical know how to get an awesome song "Accidents Will Happen" just happens to be playing now... More mutations... more chords, add some jazz... And that amazing voice and you get hundreds of copycats throughout the 80's... grabbing onto his sound and adding some dance beats and blow drying their hair out. Without this Elvis, there is no Depeche Mode, Cure or Flock of Seagulls.

The fallout of all this crap brought us REM, Nirvana and the Pixies. The antithesis of all the above. Particularly the Pixies first than Nirvana... They didn't value any rules or stay in any key really... but what they did worked... Kurt Cobain broke every rule with the guitar and if anyone else tries to copy it, they fail miserably. The punk energy mixed with a new kind of rock and lots of screaming. So far from Buddy Holly and yet so close you can feel it. After the Pixies or Nirvana has anything else existed as real in the rock music world? Ever great band after Nirvana runs merely a distant second place.

So what does one do attempting to push love of music into this daily blog of telling you my feelings, generating a song or two out of it? Songwriting is a incredibly hard endeavor to take on. Everything I have written here is at the forefront of my mind when picking up a guitar... even though it's just a hobby... the weight is heavy. Maybe I shouldn't care so much and just do it.... The Dave Matthews song "You Never Know" song blares out my iPod with the line:

I find it hard to explain how I got here
I think I can, I think I can
And then again, I will falter

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